Aide To Four Presidents


While this scene was being enacted at the hotel, we telephoned news of it to the President at his camp. I soon received instructions to call on the governor, to invite him and Mrs. Smith to lunch at the President’s camp and to make it clear in the most tactful manner I could that the invitation could not be extended to other members of the party, owing—well—to the limited resources available at camp. When the photographers had finished at last, the governor withdrew to his quarters. I followed and tried to find someone to deliver my message, but the New York staff insisted, “The governor will want to see you himself,” and they hustled me into the nearest bedroom, crowded with the Smith family. No time had been lost in unpacking the most important part of the baggage, a lavish supply of fine liquor, which in those Prohibition days was an impressive sight. The governor’s voice could be heard from the adjoining bedroom joshing the occupants of our room about the show he’d just staged, while, judging from the sounds of splashing water, giving himself a thorough scrubbing. When told that I was there with a message from the President, he came in just as he was—stripped to an undershirt, suspenders dangling from the hips, energetically towelling face and hands. He looked dashed when I delivered my message. “But what about the other members of my party? They’ve come all the way up here to see the President. Presidents don’t visit New York State every day.” I explained that President and Mrs. Coolidge lived a very quiet life, that they had received little warning of the Smiths’ visit, that it was almost time for us to leave for camp now, that there would not be time for Mrs. Coolidge to alter her luncheon arrangements, that I would explain to the President about the other members of the governor’s party when we reached camp; and I asked the governor if he and Mrs. Smith could be ready to leave in the White House car in ten minutes. He accepted the invitation with the best possible grace and during the drive to camp talked with enthusiasm about re-forestation. When we arrived the meeting of the Coolidges and the Smiths was not photographed. Mr. Coolidge greeted his guests in the hallway without much enthusiasm, although Mrs. Coolidge tried to make them feel at home. And when the right moment arrived the hostess, with her usual tact and good sense, sent invitations to others of the Smith party for coffee and inspection of the Rockefeller Camp after lunch. When they returned to the hotel, they said they’d had a fine time; but the governor and party left for Albany that afternoon, week’s baggage, in-laws and all. The New York papers next day showed the governor going through his athletic paces but the President of the United States was not shown as one of the audience.

Public receptions, and a private minuet

When Mr. Coolidge was Vice-President he and Mrs. Coolidge were obliged by the social requirements of the office to attend official or semi-official dinners nearly every night. His puritanical bearing, forming as it did so amusing a contrast to the gayer members of the free and easy Harding administration, led to many anecdotes. One, for example, had it that a lady who commiserated with the Vice-President for having to endure so much dining out got this laconic comment from him: “Gotta eat somewhere.” I suppose this tale was manufactured, like most of the world’s best “true” anecdotes, although I have heard it countless times.

But when Mr. Coolidge became President his habits changed. Henceforward he was at pains to avoid private social engagements—and all the entanglements they might involve—and keep everything official. At the same time formal entertaining at the White House reached a new high level, and so it was when I first had a part in it. Presidents Harding and Coolidge had reinstituted the full schedule of White House formal dinners and receptions initiated during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt but interrupted for a time by World War I and the illness of President Wilson. Every month there were about five dinners and an equal number of receptions. This meant a big party about every week during the winter, so that the main floor of the White House was in a constant state of activity, with furniture and rugs and flowers steadily moving in and out. There was a correct and established way of doing everything in the White House and everything had to be done according to that code. Each move for every ceremony was rehearsed with West Point precision by the Protocol Officer of the State Department, the Head Usher, Ike Hoover, and the Army and Navy aides. All hands, including President and Mrs. Coolidge, were made to toe the line. Strangely enough, that plain Yankee, with all of his real love for simplicity, approved the ritual.